Sorry, Cate Blanchett: ‘Films with women at the center’ don’t make money

“Those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences, they are not. Audiences want to see them, and in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people!” exclaimed Cate Blanchett while accepting the Best Actress Oscar for “Blue Jasmine.”

Blanchett’s female empowerment mantra received a tidal wave of good cheer from her peers in the Dolby Theatre Sunday night, especially compared to the muted reception she got for thanking her scandal-ridden director Woody Allen.

But does Blanchett have her box office facts correct? (See the list of 2013’s top money makers below.)

While there’s no question certain audiences will always want to see female-driven movies, the idea that those movies “earn money” is perhaps a statement more designed to inspire hope than reflect actual facts. Sorry for the reality check, Cate!

Case in point, “Blue Jasmine” only earned $33 million at the domestic box office. That’s a respectable number, but hardly earth-shattering. Perhaps Blanchett wasn’t referring to her own film as a cash cow, but to one of her four Oscar rivals?

Led by Sandra Bullock, “Gravity” grossed $269 million domestically, easily making it one of the most successful films of all time headlining an actress. Besides earning box office green, “Gravity” also scored Oscar gold in the form of seven trophies Sunday night — Best Director (Alfonso Cuaron), Cinematography, Film Editing, Visual Effects, Music Score, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing — but it lost out on Best Picture to “12 Years a Slave.”

I got a lot flack last week for writing that “Gravity” would lose Best Picture because it starred a woman, but as long as the academy’s majority voting demographic remains old, white, and male, this unfortunate curse will likely hold true for many years to come. Over the past 20 years there have been only two Best Picture winners where a woman received top billing: “Chicago” (2002) starring Renee Zellweger and “Shakespeare in Love” (1998) fronted by Gwyneth Paltrow.

As for Blanchett’s other three Best Actress contenders: Amy Adams‘ film “American Hustle” stole $147 million (good enough for 2013’s Top 20), Judi Dench‘s movie “Philomena” found $34 million and Meryl Streep‘s dramedy “August: Osage County” grabbed $37 million.

Let’s break down 2013’s Top 30 movies by the criteria that matters most to studios — money, money, money! We’ll also list the first-billed star for each movie to determine whether Blanchett’s claim is true that female films do well at the box office. (All results are courtesy of IMDB.)

#1 – “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” – $424 million – Jennifer Lawrence
#2 – “Iron Man 3” – $409 million – Robert Downey Jr.
#3 – “Frozen” – $389 million – Kristen Bell
#4 – “Despicable Me 2” – $368 million – Steve Carell
#5 – “Man of Steel” – $291 million – Henry Cavill
#6 – “Gravity” – $269 million – Sandra Bullock
#7 – “Monsters University” – $268 million – Billy Crystal
#8 – “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” – $257 million – Ian McKellen
#9 – “Fast and Furious 6” – $239 million – Vin Diesel
#10 – “Oz the Great and Powerful” – $235 million – James Franco
#11 – “Star Trek Into Darkness” – $229 million – Chris Pine
#12 – “Thor: The Dark World” – $206 million – Chris Hemsworth
#13 – “World War Z” – $202 million – Brad Pitt
#14 – “The Croods” – $187 million – Nicholas Cage
#15 – “The Heat” – $160 million – Sandra Bullock
#16 – “We’re the Millers” – $150 million – Jason Sudeikis
#17 – “American Hustle” – $147 million – Christian Bale
#18 – “The Great Gatsby” – $145 million – Leonardo DiCaprio
#19 – “The Conjuring” – $137 million – Patrick Wilson
#20 – “Identity Thief” – $134 million – Jason Bateman
#21 – “Grown Ups 2” – $134 million – Adam Sandler
#22 – “The Wolverine” – $133 million – Hugh Jackman
#23 – “Anchoman 2: The Legend Continues” – $125 million – Will Ferrell
#24 – “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” – $123 million – Dwayne Johnson
#25 – “Lone Survivor” – $122 million – Mark Wahlberg
#26 – “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” – $120 million – Bill Hader
#27 – “Now You See Me” – $118 million – Jesse Eisenberg
#28 – “The Butler” – $117 million – Forest Whitaker
#29 – “The Wolf of Wall Street” – $113 million – Leonardo DiCaprio
#30 – “The Hangover Part II” – $112 million – Bradley Cooper

The results are in, and only four of 2013’s Top 30 films headlined an actress, or just about 13%.

Last year’s Best Actress champ Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook“) starred in 2013’s biggest money maker — the much-anticipated “Hunger Games” sequel — while the year’s 3rd place grosser was two-time Oscar winner “Frozen” starring Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel as sister queens.

Special kudos go to 2009 Oscar winner Bullock (“The Blind Side”), who starred in the other two top-earning female-driven films of 2013: 6th place “Gravity” and 15th place “The Heat.”

For Blanchett’s Oscar speech to become a reality, things will need to dramatically shift in Hollywood from the ground up, starting at the screenplay level and continuing on up to the casting department.

Until that day, Cate, it’s my unfortunate duty to inform you that the female-driven film world is still very, very flat.

Rewatch Blanchett’s Oscar acceptance speech below, then sound off on this controversy in the comments section below.

UPDATE: See my responses to your comments!

54 thoughts on “Sorry, Cate Blanchett: ‘Films with women at the center’ don’t make money

  1. Marcus, I’m not exactly sure what the main thesis of this article is. The title seems like it’s contradicting with Cate’s statement, but the facts do nothing but affirm her case. Yes, only 4 of the Top 30 films had women at the center, but how many major studio films this year were female-driven in the first place? I think Cate was referring less to Blue Jasmine (though even that has proven to be one of Woody Allen’s most commercially successful films yet) and more to the fact that the HIGHEST GROSSING FILM OF THE YEAR (domestically) was a movie with a female lead, not to mention the fact that The Heat was the highest-grossing live-action comedy of the year. Mass audiences clearly DO want to see films with female leads, and they DO make money. The problem that Cate addressed was just that there aren’t enough as there should be, which the article seems to agree with in the end, so I’m not sure how she’s wrong there.

    1. Agreed. Marcus appears to have put a spin on Cate’s words to make them mean something far beyond what she was talking about. She never said “most films with female leads”, she never said “most films that make money have female leads”, she never even said anything about highest grossing films. The list proves what she said, that is “female films with women at the center… earn money”. Did you see the top of the list? Hello?

  2. Thank you Halo_Insider could not agree more, Catching Fire is the first film, since 1980 (as far as goes with year by year analysis) to have a women in the central role of the grossing film of the year. Frozen is also holding strong, and if Disney were smart they would expand a little more, and the film could tackle Iron Man 3. Cate’s point was films about women are longer niche, women are a driving force, and can be seen as strong central characters.

  3. This is so dumb. Of course there are fewer movies starring women– they don’t get made! Blanchett’s point was “if you make a movie about a woman it can make money.” She didn’t say “all you white guys made 50 pct of your movies about women this year!” Which is the metric you’re comparing it against

    If you want to prove your point maybe look at what % of female driven flicks bomb compared to make driven. But to say “well look there are only 3 women in the Supreme Court and 6 men, women must not be good Supreme Court justices” is dumb logical and math beyond belief from a respected blog like this page

  4. You hurt your own case Marcus you didn’t ask the question that needed to be asked: How many female
    driven movies were actually made? The movies you list only have a handful of women leading movies. You are part of the problem – you throw out a thesis and then find stuff to back you up instead of the other way around. And you clearly didn’t comprehend anything Cate was trying to say – I really hope you are not married it would be like living with a person deaf, dumb and blind.

  5. To be fair, she said they make money. She didn’t say they would dominate the box office from top to bottom. Also, only two of those films in the top 30 were even nominated for Best Picture, so I’m not sure the people in the room are too worried about making blockbusters. Most of those films didn’t even get a single nomination.

  6. At only $33m, you may not think BLUE JASMINE broke any records, yet it made more than NEBRASKAN and DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (and, as you mention, so did AUGUST and PHILOMENA). The way you jusged the films in that box office list is also wacky. You think $100mil gross for THE BUTLER was for Forest Whitaker? And Nicolas Cage is hardly the only front and center lead of THE CROODS. He shared that with Emma Stone.

    But, forgetting that, you completely misinterpreted the point of her speech, which was that Hollywood studios and producers like to act that female-fronted movies a niche novelty and if one is a success then it’s just a fluke, but if they actually made more they’d see that isn’t the case. And can we get a list of the biggest flops of 2013? They all had a man at the center, right?

  7. Pedantic point, but I feel like pointing out that Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson seem to be interchangeable as far as first-billing for The Conjuring goes. IMDB has the former out front. Haven’t seen the film, but I suppose that could be another borderline example.

  8. Some of these big budget pictures didn’t actually make that much money because they cost so much to make. The movies gross isn’t really a great indicator as to whether the film was a success.

  9. and lets not forget there is a GLOBAL audience. Not just US. Afterall the world is round. Blue Jasmine made $94,915,738, Osage County as so far made 58,893,564 and Philomena 86,258,874 on a budget of $10m and as mentioned Judi Dench is in India filming a sequel to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which made $136,836,156 internationally.

  10. I hope James Dixon is just playing devil’s advocate. Otherwise, he is completely missing the point of Blanchett’s speech.

  11. Are you trying to be an ass with that headline? She didn’t say ONLY films with women at the center make money. She just said that they could. And having 3 of them in the top ten shows that they do.

  12. Um….no. Top billed is one thing. Female centered stories is another. Croods is about a father/daughter relationship so she’s just as important as him. Identity thief Melissa McCarthy is on the cover and everything the main character does revolves around her. The women lead the action and are at the center of American hustle. The conjouring is an ensemble with three main characters where two are women.

  13. This is an extremely dumb article. The writer does not acknowledge that this is the first year, where the #1 film at the box office was lead by a woman – THE FIRST TIME. So this shows that things are definitely changing. In addition, as has been mentioned below much of the films are about female stories. One of my favorites (the Butler) I know many people watched because of Oprah, not Forest and the Croods was definitely about the father/daughter relationship. Ms. Blanchett is not wrong in saying that things are changing and that female driven movies are making money. They are doing quite well.

  14. Aside from all the great comments already posted, it’s also worth noting that part of her implicit argument is that there aren’t enough female-centered movies (with the fallacy being they don’t make money, so they don’t get made.) So pointing out that most movies are male-centered is only bolstering her argument.

  15. There are far more roles for men. that is why far more male-driven movies are at the top of the box office. But, I’d like you to tell me one movie that wasn’t successful because it was female-driven this year. Also, many of these movies have co-leads which include women. Numbers 20,19,17,16,14, and 10 all have female leads.

  16. I would like someone to compare these numbers to the budgets these movies had. Because I actually listed once all 2013 movies that had an over 100 million dollars budgets, and surprise, out of the 28 movies I found only those 3 in the top 10 had an over 100 million dollar budget. And Frozen, which had the most at 150 million, didn’t even crack the top 10 for the movies with the biggest budgets. So this article is just extremely unfair, and I admit it, it just makes me really angry. The reason why movies with female leads don’t make money is because they are not being made. So please stop.

  17. Marcus, listing top grossing films of 2013 alone doesn’t prove your point. The fact is that there *weren’t* enough women-driven movies being made to get into the list. To be thorough, you have to list the PERCENTAGE of films, not the amount of films.

  18. i usually like your post dear sir. but i have to write this because i think your article didn’t go eye to eye with Cate’s speech. listing those movies is non-sense! of course there are more men-centric movies there with the usual action hero stories than female-centric ones because the system as it is dictates it. the mere fact that 2 of the first 3 top movies, with THe Hunger Games at the top means that yes, female-centric movies does kneed make money. i just can’t believe that you should an article just to counter Cate’s speech. I’m embarrassed.

  19. Oh, what a stupid article this is. The “facts” as they’re laid out do NOT account for movies starring women that actually turned a profit — i.e., made money. Listing movies by box office gross alone is inaccurate and misleading. The writer of a fluff piece should not be attempting to make sense out of basic numbers that obviously require much deeper analysis. Please re-write, amend, or delete this article.

  20. ummm…I believe you’ve confused your terms, or have a problem with comprehension. she said “earn money” (as in the profit above the budget) not “landing on the Top 30 moneymakers list for the year.”

  21. Oops, I meant in my previous comment that “out of the 28 movies I found with an over 100 million dollar budget only those 3 in the top 10 had *female leads.”

  22. Marcus this is so beneath your other written pieces, which are far more superior and usually a pleasure to read. Worse still you’ve asked to sound off on this controversy here – I feel like this is TMZ level attention seeking! It’s one thing saying there’s minimal box office success for female lead films but you’ve failed to mention the percentage of female lead films making the top 30 in comparison to that of the percentage male lead films making the top 30. You’re right in stating the there’s need to be consolidation in casting and scripts, but implying in your use of figures that it’s all in order. Sorry my friend but this one’s a hot mess.

  23. Funny how “We’re the Milers” was a Jennifer Aniston movie before it premiered at the box office then when it was a hit with $150 million at the box office it became a Jason Sudeikis movie. Also “The Butler” made over $100 million dollars because of Oprah. Take Oprah and Jennifer Aniston out of these movies and they wouldn’t make near as much money as they did.

  24. Cate Blanchett deserved her Oscar, and does not deserve this hateful commentary. Her speech was THE BEST of the Night! Perhaps write an article about Matthew McConaughey’s fake Preacher act, or the 20 Feet from Stardom’s musical number. But this? Come on- enough.

  25. Also it seems you’re bitter she won. Its about the performance. A woman (or man) should not win because their film made money. So you’re saying Sandra Bullock DESERVED her Oscar for The Blind Side because it made money? You are a sick man. Seriously dude- I would suggest you apologize to Cate Blanchett publicly for writing this- it’s offensive and unnecessary.

  26. Another possibly pedantic point – Identity Thief, while listing Jason Bateman first in the credits, was clearly designed as a vehicle for Melissa McCarthy to utilize over-the-top broad comedy that had served her so well in Bridesmaids. No way that that movie would have done as well commercially without her contribution.

  27. “To make money” should be based on the actual profits, not the surface figures on the box office. Those blockbusters also cost huge. If you compare films with below $50M budget, no VFX heavy nor superhero nor franchise origin, I think female-centric films probably earn more than male-centric films.

  28. how you are defining “with a women at their centre” is limiting. many of the films for which you name the male lead have an equal or even better draw in their female lead! for example, croods, millers, gatsby, conjuring, american hustle, and so on. also your list doesn’t cover the loads of films with women that did make money because you are limiting your list to the “BIGGEST” money-makers. which is myopic (do you need glasses?). blanchett said films with women at their centre make money. and it’s true! she doesn’t say they make THE MOST money. that’s not the point. trust me, not everyone wants to see superhero movies, animation, or retarded comedies. many people want something with a little depth. and they may not be as many in number as the BLOCKBUSTERS but we are out here. and we know you haven’t proven Blanchett wrong.

  29. And you should also see, whether top biling or not, who audience went to see a film. “We’re the Millers” was Jennifer Anniston’s stripper tease, “American Hustle” was for JLaw and probably for Amy Adams’s plunging dresses, “Conjuring” was more about Vera Famiga, and “Identity Thief” was all about Melissa McCarthy.

  30. I don’t think you guys need to be working this hard to try to write provocative articles. This is the second article I’ve seen now on here that comes off as a little bit sexist. It’s making me sad, and I like it better when this website is fun.

  31. Because the number 1 domestically earnt movie The Hunger Games: Catching Fire isn’t good enough to say that women in movies don’t make money.




    Women in at the center of the film CLEARLY make money.

  32. This is such a sad, sexist and bitter article. Change will come in the industry if people like you will stop negativity in someone else statements.

  33. What a disgustingly sexist and irreverent headline and article -as well as fundamentally fallacious. This site appeals less and less to me every time.

  34. Normally I don’t write a lot in articles from GD, but this is a fallacy and false investigation, hidding a terrible sense of chauvinism. Seriously, this method and resolution is terrible. And the worst part, you supported the excellent Blanchett’s points of film industry. Shame on you Marcus.

  35. Marcus James Dixon Shame on You for writing this disgusting, chauvinist and pathetic article with no real evidence and full of falacies.

  36. I just looked at imdb and found Aniston is top billed for We’re The Millers and (which is what I saw on posters) and Vera Farmiga is top billed for The Conjuring.

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